UK announces drone registration rules and safety tests for users

Drone users will have to register their devices and conduct safety awareness tests following research into the potential damage to airliners and helicopters.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor

Under new regulations announced by the UK government at the weekend, drone users will have to get their devices registered and sit awareness safety tests.

Owners of drones weighing over 250 grams will have to get them registered under the regulations in order to improve accountability and "encourage owners to act responsibly".

Drone safety awareness tests, which could be undertaken online or through an app, will ensure that users understand UK safety, security, and privacy regulations, the government said.

"Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones," said Aviation Minister Lord Callanan. "Like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones, introducing safety awareness tests to educate users we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public."

The government also announced plans to build geo-fencing technology into drones that will prevent them from entering certain airspace.

The new regulations are in response to findings on the effects of mid-air collision between drones and manned aircraft, published in a report [PDF] commissioned by the Department for Transport, British Airline Pilots' Association, and the Military Aviation Authority.

Several findings, such as the impact of different sized drones on airliner and helicopter windscreens and tail rotors, will be used for future rules and regulations on drone use, the report said.

The government added that it will also provide data to manufacturers and safety bodies to ensure safety improvements are being implemented. The government also said it will continue working with the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure the restrictions keep in mind the needs of UK-based businesses that utilise drones.

The measures follow a consultation last year that looked at ways to make drone use safer. The consultation recommended the newly introduced measures, as well as bringing forward work to create a source of UK airspace data for geo-fencing, and exploring further measures such as creating new offences and increasing penalties.

The UK government also launched a drone code last year that detailed key principles for the operation of drones, including keeping the drone in sight; following the manufacturer's instructions; staying below 400 feet; and keeping it away from airports and airfields.

Earlier this year, Canada announced new drone restrictions as part of the Aeronautical Act, stipulating that recreational drone operators must mark their devices with contact information, and cannot fly them at night or in cloudy conditions.

Other measures as part of the Act also include not being allowed to fly higher than 90 metres; within 9 kilometres of airports, heliports, seaplane bases, or anywhere aircraft take off and land; within controlled or restricted airspaces; and within 9 kilometres of a forest fire where it could interfere with police or first responders.

In the US, where concrete drone regulation is yet to be established, agencies have been pushing counter-drone technology as a result of a rise in misuse and the number of incidents between drones and airplanes, including pilot reports of drones striking aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration trialled its Anti-UAV Defense System (AUDS) to detect and identify potentially dangerous or hostile drones close to airports.

The AUDS works by tracking the drone with a thermal imaging camera before sending high-powered radio frequency signals to the drones, making them unresponsive to the controller.

Last November, Maryland-based Department 13 unveiled its counter-drone device Mesmer last year, which "mesmerises" intrusive drones by manipulating their radio transmission protocols.

The same month, DroneShield launched its hand-held DroneGun, a device that jams communications between drones and their pilots. The company said the product was in response to due to an increase in the use of drones for terrorism.

The anti-drone ray, which uses thermal imaging for drone detection, was developed in response to the concurrent issue of people flying private drones far too close to airports, reports of which total around 100 per month, the FAA said.

DroneShield estimates that 12 million drones will be in use by 2020.

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